Cancer survivorship is on the rise thanks to earlier detection, better supportive care, and today’s cutting-edge cancer treatments such as targeted therapies and immunotherapy. In fact, a recent report by the American Cancer Society, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, estimates that there are nearly 17 million cancer survivors in the United States today and that number is expected to grow to over 22 million by the year 2030.
How cancer survivorship is defined depends on who you ask. According to Cancer.net, cancer survivorship has at least two common meanings. One is having no signs of cancer after finishing treatment. The other is living with, through, and beyond cancer. The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship defines a cancer survivor as anyone diagnosed with cancer from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, and throughout the rest of life.
The fact that so many cancer patients are living longer is certainly a positive development, but survivorship is not always an easy journey. Cancer survivors can grapple with a wide range of lingering issues stemming from their disease or treatment. Of course, ever present in the back of their minds is concern that the cancer will return.
“Cancer survivors often continue to face physical, psychological, and emotional issues left over from treatment along with uncertainty over what their future holds and the fear of recurrence,” says Brittany Balusik, MSN, CNP, of The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers. “Their loved ones may also face a number of challenges, with caregiver stress being especially common. Even though cancer survivors have finished treatment, they may still need help recovering from side effects, and if they’re post-surgical, they often need even more assistance. Having to provide care for an extended period and not knowing if or when they can get back to normal life can put a lot of pressure on caregivers.”
To address these and many other concerns, The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers has introduced a Survivorship Program that gives cancer patients and their caregivers the tools they need to navigate life after treatment. According to Balusik, this program helps patients return to daily living by linking them with local and national resources, providing them with referrals to specialists to treat symptoms left over from treatment, and ensuring continued follow-up between The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers team and the patients’ other providers, including their primary care physician. “Maintaining an ongoing connection with the patient’s primary care provider after treatment ends is critical to ensure that screenings and follow-ups continue within, and after, the five-year surveillance,” she says.
In addition, when patients come to The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers for the Survivorship Program, they’re given an individualized care plan—essentially, a set of guidelines to follow that specifies the frequency of follow-up visits, testing, imaging, lab work, etc. “We do all that here in the first five years and communicate results to the patient’s primary care provider. After that five-year surveillance period, patients are usually able to return to their primary care doctor, but we have an open-door policy. Patients are encouraged to come back to see us at least once a year, if they desire, or any time they experience new symptoms,” Balusik says.
Participation in the Survivorship Program is currently by doctor referral, and Balusik and her colleagues are working hard to raise awareness of the program among referring physicians and their patients. “We want cancer survivors to have access to all the tools and resources they need to achieve and maintain the best possible health and quality of life,” she states.
The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers, located at 4126 N. Holland Sylvania Road, Suite 105, also provides imaging, laboratory, chemotherapy and IV services. The cancer center consists of 8 medical and 2 radiation oncologists along with 7 nurse practitioners and 4 research nurses. The cancer center also has satellite centers in Maumee, Napoleon, Bowling Green, Wauseon, and Monroe.
The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers has earned Patient-Centered Specialty Practice level 3 recognition and Oncology Medical Home recognition from the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Oncology homes align systems and resources with coordinated care focused on cancer patients and their needs. This reduces fragmentation, supports shared decision making, and improves the patient experience. They are the first oncology practice in the state of Michigan and the second oncology practice in the state of Ohio to receive this recognition.
For more information, please call The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers at 419-479-5605.